National | Technology

Issue: "Iraq: What went wrong?," May 15, 2004

Virtual vote?

Diebold Election Systems is a bipartisan whipping boy this election year. Tech experts and politicians from all sides are complaining that computerized voting poses security risks, with at least 50 million voters set to use digital ballot boxes this November.

Diebold's deepest wound so far comes from California secretary of state Kevin Shelley, who banned voting machines in four counties (San Diego, Solano, San Joaquin, and Kern)-and called for a criminal investigation. Yet CEO Walden W. O'Dell says he is confident in the technology's long-term prospects and claims the machines can help prevent disasters like the 2000 Florida electoral dispute.

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About 56,000 Diebold touch-screens were used during the March Super Tuesday primary, mostly in Maryland, Georgia, and California. California investigators claim the manufacturer jeopardized the outcome with computer glitches, last-minute changes, and uncertified software. Hundreds of polling places opened late after low battery power caused malfunctions. Diebold still says its machines are safe and secure and points out that there were no security issues on Super Tuesday.

One problem is that recounts are frustrated because current machines lack paper records. California will require printouts in 2006 (and other states may follow) as a security safeguard.

Still searching

Google's IPO is the biggest

thing to hit the stock market since the bubble burst. This launch, with an estimated value of at least $20 billion, will likely create a new gang of millionaires-and a historic amount of hype.

Unlike many dot-coms, Google waited for profitability to file, showing that a big internet company can make a solid profit based on ad sales. It earned $105.6 million in profit from revenues of $962 million last year.

Co-founder Larry Page approaches the IPO with an unorthodox spin, issuing a statement about making the world "a better place," with a company that won't "be evil." Still, the company faces serious challenges ahead.

Its popularity runs on certain software concepts, such as search engine design and ad rotation. A competitor or another group of programming whizzes might come up with something better. Since switching search engines is simple for users, a new champion could rise overnight.

As Google was getting started, several other portal sites were fighting for search dominance. Now many names from the 1990s have fallen into obscurity or vanished, such as Infoseek, Go, Excite@Home, NBCi, Snap, and GoTo. Meanwhile, Yahoo and Microsoft still strive for search dominance.


The IRS warns that some spammers are sending phony messages claiming that recipients face a tax investigation. The con artists try to get taxpayers to give them personal information like Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and driver's license numbers. Treasury Department officials have already forced one of these deceptive sites to shut down.

The digital video recorder is about to take off, after several years of slow growth, according to Forrester Research. The firm predicted that the number of U.S. households with such devices, best known by the names TiVo and ReplayTV, will grow from 3.5 million in 2003 to 6.5 million by the end of 2004. A big reason is that prices are coming down and satellite and cable TV operators are offering DVRs as premiums for subscribers.

Barnes & Noble.com promised to boost its security after a breach exposed some customers' personal data. The bookstore made a deal with New York state authorities, but claims no consumer complaints were filed and no credit card information was exposed. The problem arose from a "cookie-less" shopping scheme intended to track visitors via special identifiers in page URLs.

The recording industry sued 477 more people for illegally trading songs online, bringing the total up to 2,454 defendants. Many are college students using high-speed campus networks. None of these cases has gone to trial, but 437 people have agreed to pay about $3,000 each as settlements.


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